Answer: Due to the mild winters throughout a large portion of California, certain popular bulbs that do well in other parts of the country do poorly here. But on the bright side, we can leave in the ground many bulb species that would never make it through a New England winter!
Unfortunately the hybrid commercial tulips like the Darwins and Triumphs are poorly adapted here and need special treatment to bloom well. Tulips should be purchased as soon as offered in early September, then stored in the refrigerator until the weather cools off in late October or early November. Without this chilling, the plants will emerge stunted, and the flower stem will not elongate, resulting in the flower blooming down in the base of the leaves. Try to get the bulbs into the ground within a half hour of removing from the refigerator, DON"T leave them sitting in the sun for a few hours while you are digging your holes, as that will undo a lot of the artificial chilling. Plant deeply, about nine or ten inches down. Tulips are considered an annual, and should be replanted fresh every year. Because of this it is best to shop around to get the best price on bulbs, since you are only going to get one flower from each bulb. The large home improvement stores are generally the best source for cheap tulip bulbs. A few species tulips will naturalize here, foremost T. sylvestis, bakeri, clusiana and saxatilis.
Daffodils are easy here, and come back every year. The only daffodils that do not do well in California are the Poeticus division, they bloom so late in spring the weather is too warm and they don't amount to much.
Crocus: The regular hybrid crocuses are hit or miss, they will bloom, and come back for a few years, then peter out. Some of the species are good repeaters, C. tommasinianus, sieberi and ancyrensis especially.
Hyacinth: These are very similar to tulips, and the same problems apply. Buy cheap bulbs in fall, refrigerate for six to eight weeks, plant when the weather cools off. Don't expect more than one year of bloom.
Galanthus(snowdrops) Same as for tulips.
Alliums, Ipheion, Leucojum and Muscari do VERY well here, need no special treatment, and can become invasive, hard to eliminate pests, so keep and eye on them.
Some other bulbs you might consider planting (these do not require artifical chilling and can be left in the ground year around):
Allium neopolitanum ?Cowanii? FLOWERING ONION; Allium sphaerocephalon DRUMSTICKS; Anemone blanda GREEK WINDFLOWER; Anemone coronaria POPPY-FLOWERED ANEMONE; Anemone x fulgens SCARLET WINDFLOWER; Arum italicum (shade) ITALIAN ARUM; Babiana (many) BABOON FLOWER; Calochortus (many, some difficult) MARIPOSA LILIES; Chlidanthus fragrans PERFUMED FAIRY LILY; Cyclamen hederifolium (shade) HARDY CYCLAMEN; Cyclamen persicum (shade) CYCLAMEN; Crocosmia MONTBRETIA; Crocus imperati ITALIAN CROCUS; Freesia (including Lapeyrousia) FREESIA; Galtonia candicans (for summer color) SUMMER HYACINTH; Gladiolus x hybrida GLADIOLA; Gladiolus tristis LEMON GLADIOLA; Hyacinthoides hispanica SPANISH BLUEBELL; Ipheion uniflorum SPRING STAR FLOWER; Iris xiphium ENGLISH/DUTCH IRIS; Ixia hybrids CORN LILY; Lachenalia aloides CAPE COWSLIP; Leucojum vernum SPRING SNOWFLAKE; Muscari armeniacum GRAPE HYACINTH; Narcissus; ( Nectaroscordum siculum NECTAROSCORDUM; Ornithogalum arabicum STAR OF BETHLEHEM; Ornithogalum narbonense NARBONE STAR; Ornithogalum thyrsoides CHINCHERINCHEE; Oxalis purpurea CAPE SORRELL; Ranunculus asiaticus RANUNCULUS; Scilla peruviana PERUVIAN SQUILL; Sparaxis tricolor HARLEQUIN FLOWER; Triteleia ?Queen Fabiola? BRODIAEA; Tritonia crocata FLAME FREESIA; Veltheimia bracteata (shade) CAPE FOREST LILY; Watsonia BUGLE LILY.
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